How Did Bruce Lee Die? – The Truth Behind Bruce Lee’s Death


Bruce Lee Grave Site

For many people, Bruce Lee’s death is still shrouded in mystery. For those interested in distinguishing rumor from the truth regarding what happened on Bruce Lee’s last day, we have detailed the facts so you can discern the fiction.

Bruce Lee died from cerebral edema, excess fluid around the brain causing pressure on the brain. He experienced the same condition 2 months prior, but doctors controlled the condition with medication. The cerebral edema that caused his death resulted from taking pain medication for a headache.

Bruce Lee was a legend in his own time, but the controversy and mystery surrounding his death are almost as large as that surrounding his life! His untimely death took his fans and the movie-making industry by surprise. The facts surrounding Bruce Lee’s death became shrouded in rumor and legend. We will shed some light on the actual events and dispel some of the mystery around the death of this martial arts legend!

How Did Bruce Lee Really Die?

Bruce Lee was an extremely fit, healthy martial artist when he died suddenly in the prime of his life. The shockingly sudden nature of his death left family, friends, and fans in disbelief that he could be taken so soon.

His extreme exercise regime made him fitter and stronger than many other men his age, and many other martial artists could not keep up with his exercise program and his dedication and discipline.

For this reason, the people surrounding Bruce Lee could not believe the official report regarding the cause of his death on 20th July 1973.

Bruce Lee’s producer, Raymond Chow, was present when Bruce Lee died, and he was reported as saying that Bruce died due to an allergic reaction to a painkiller he had taken earlier that afternoon.

Raymond Chow’s statement was not entirely accurate, but the medication did play a role in Bruce’s death. The coroner ordered an autopsy on Bruce because there was no external evidence on his body as to the cause of his demise.

After the autopsy and running tests on the samples taken, the coroner ruled Bruce Lee’s death as “death by misadventure.” This cause of death implies a person took a voluntary risk that resulted in their death.

The medical explanation is that the painkiller Bruce took, Equagesic, caused cerebral edema, which is a swelling of the brain.

The painkiller is a standard medication that was not known to have any other similar side effects on other people who had taken the medication. 

This fact and Bruce Lee’s peak physical condition led to many people being unable to believe that such a simple act as taking pain medication for a headache had such devastating results.

Bruce Lee was 32 years old at the time of his untimely death in Hong Kong.

Bruce Lee Funeral
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What happened to Bruce Lee before he died?

Many fans do not realize that Bruce was hospitalized ten weeks prior when he passed out during a dialogue replacement session for his latest movie, Enter The Dragon. This earlier health episode that Bruce experienced when he collapsed while working on his latest movie was a warning sign that all was not well with the martial arts actor.

Ten weeks before his death on May 10, Lee walked into a tiny dubbing room to re-record dialogue for Enter the Dragon. The engineers turned off the air conditioner to avoid having its noise ruin the soundtrack. After about 30 minutes in this sauna-like room, Lee fainted and started convulsing. He was rushed to the hospital and nearly died from a cerebral edema.

History.com

He collapsed at work and was rushed to the hospital for treatment. He suffered from extremely painful headaches and seizures during this time, and doctors diagnosed cerebral edema. This results from an excess of fluid surrounding the brain, which causes headaches, swelling of the brain, and seizures.

Doctors successfully treated Bruce with Mannitol, and the condition subsided to the point where he was discharged from the hospital a few days later. This incident occurred on 10th May 1973, 2 months before his death.

This condition can be life-threatening and was an indication that Bruce may have had an underlying health condition, which was triggered on the day of his death by taking the painkiller.

On the day of Bruce Lee’s death, he was busy working on the release of his latest movie and had met with his producer Raymond Chow in the morning. Raymond Chow reported that Bruce was enthusiastic and energetic during their meeting and did not show any signs of ill health during their meeting.

After the morning meetings, Bruce went to the apartment of his friend and colleague Betty Ting Pei. There is some speculation that the relationship between Betty and Bruce was more than professional. 

They were alone in the apartment for a few hours and made plans to meet with Raymond Chow later for dinner to finalize details about a new movie deal. Bruce started complaining of a headache and not feeling well. Betty gave him Equagesic for his headache, and he went to lie down.

A few hours later, Betty went to wake him up but could not rouse him. She called Raymond Chow, Bruce’s producer, who came round to the apartment and tried to wake Bruce.

When Raymond could not wake Bruce, he called a doctor, who came to the apartment and tried to bring Bruce around for a further 10-minutes. When he was unsuccessful, the doctor called for an ambulance that took Bruce to the hospital.

The hospital was close by, but Bruce was declared dead on arrival when the ambulance arrived.

What was Bruce Lee filming when he died?

Bruce Lee made many movies during his lifetime, but the last movie he completed before his death was the famed “Enter The Dragon.”

Enter The Dragon
Clouse, R. (Director). (1973). Enter the Dragon [Film]. Warner Brothers Pictures.

Before he began filming “Enter The Dragon,” he had started on a movie called “Game Of Death,” but when the offer for “Enter The Dragon” came along, he put filming “Game Of Death” on hold till the completion of “Enter The Dragon.”

Bruce Lee died shortly before the release of “Enter The Dragon,” and he never completed the filming of “Game Of Death.”

Game of Death
Photo by Brucelee.com

Bruce was the star, producer, and director of “Game Of Death,” and he decided to put filming on hold in favor of “Enter The Dragon” because it was an offer from Warner Bros. in Hollywood, and it was the first big-budget martial arts movie ever made.

Warner Bros. offered an estimated $850,000 budget for the martial arts action movie “Enter The Dragon,” which was a lot of money for a movie budget at the time, and it was an offer Bruce Lee could not pass up. He put the filming of “Game of Death” on hold to complete the Warner Bros. movie.

Bruce died shortly before the release of “Enter The Dragon” and did not complete the filming of “Game Of Death.” Producer Robert Clouse was enlisted to complete the movie, which he did with the assistance of 2 stand-in actors for Bruce Lee. The movie was eventually released 5 years after Bruce’s death in 1978.

How Many Movies Did Bruce Lee Make Before His Death?

Many resources only credit Bruce Lee with the making of 5 movies, but his acting career spanned many more films than his iconic Kung Fu movies.

Bruce Lee acted in 26 movies in his lifetime, starting as a child actor when he was only 3 months old. He is, however, more renowned for his 5 iconic Kung Fu movies, filmed between 1971 and 1973.

These top-5 movies are as follows.

  • The Big Boss
  • Fists Of Fury
  • Game Of Death
  • Enter The Dragon
  • Way Of The Dragon

How Much Money Did Bruce Lee Make?

Bruce Lee’s estimated net worth at the time of his death was $10 million. His iconic status has allowed his estate to continue to generate millions of dollars in income each year due to royalties and other income streams.

What Is Bruce Lee’s Most Famous Movie?

Although Bruce Lee made many movies in his lifetime, his rise to stardom only really began in 1971 with his Kung Fu action movies, which started the modern genre.

Bruce Lee’s most famous movie was “Enter The Dragon,” filmed for Warner Bros. The movie was considered the best movie produced in 1973 and is still considered the best Kung Fu movie of all time.

Is there any truth to the movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood about Bruce Lee?

In 2019, Quentin Tarantino created a movie called “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood,” which portrayed Bruce Lee in a poor light as an arrogant actor, but it’s a false representation of Bruce Lee.

The scene and the fight were completely fictional and are not a true representation of Bruce Lee or his character. Many Bruce Lee fans perceived the portrayal of Bruce Lee in the movie as in poor taste and completely inaccurate regarding who Bruce Lee was.

Friends and family agreed with the fans and were greatly troubled by the scene. They expressed their discomfort with Bruce Lee being portrayed in this way, especially by someone who never knew the man.

Quentin Tarantino was unrepentant about his portrayal of Bruce Lee, stating that the film was a work of fiction

Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, criticized the false portrayal of her father in the movie and found it extremely disrespectful to the memory of her father.

Many other critics viewed the scene as prejudiced against Asian-Americans, and the film was the subject of much debate in this regard.

Quentin Tarantino claimed that he used Mathew Polly’s work as the basis for the portrayal of Bruce Lee. However, Mathew Polly debunked this by publicly stating that the scene in the movie was not representative of Bruce Lee in any way.

How Old Was Brandon Lee When Bruce Lee Died?

Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon Lee, was born on 1st February 1965. When Bruce Lee died in 1973, Brandon was only 8 years old.

Even though Brandon was so young when his father died, he was still greatly influenced by his iconic father and followed in his father’s footsteps by learning martial arts and becoming an actor.

How Did Brandon Lee Die On Set?

Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s son, also came to a tragic end at a young age. Brandon Lee landed the part of the leading role in the movie “The Crow,” and it was on the set of this movie that he met with a fatal accident.

Brandon Lee

During the filming on the set, a fellow actor in the movie, Michael Massee, aimed a prop gun at Brandon Lee’s character as part of the script and pulled the trigger. The gun was supposed to contain blanks, but unfortunately, a projectile from a previous film set a few weeks before was lodged in the gun.

The blank charge expelled the projectile from the gun, and the bullet struck Brandon Lee in the abdomen and lodged in his spine. Brandon was rushed to the hospital, where he underwent 6 hours of emergency surgery. Unfortunately, the surgery was unsuccessful, and Brandon died from his injuries. 

The date of Brandon Lee’s death was 31st March 1993, which was 20 years after the death of his father. Brandon Lee was 28 years old at the time of his death.

How Was The Crow Filmed Without Brandon Lee?

The filming of the movie “The Crow” was close to completion when Brandon Lee was tragically killed on set. The producer decided to complete the movie using Chad Stahelski and Jeff Cadiente as body doubles for Brandon Lee.

Ground-breaking CGI effects were used to superimpose Brandon Lee’s face on the images of the body doubles in the movie scenes.

Did Brandon Lee Know Martial Arts?

Brandon Lee studied his father’s Kung Fu style Jeet Kune Do, from a young age. Brandon was not as passionate about martial arts as his father was but studied martial arts to enhance his performance in action roles as an actor.

Brandon Lee studied at the Inosanto Acadamy under the instruction of Dan Inosanto, where he learned Muay Thai and his father’s Jeet Kune Do style.

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Final Thoughts

Bruce Lee as a martial artist and actor has influenced people from all cultures and in all locations around the world and continues to do so to this day.

His dedication to his training and his filmmaking made him extraordinary in both these aspects of his life. The death of Bruce Lee was both unfortunate and untimely, had he was taken from this world just as he was reaching his prime!

Even though he is no longer with us, Bruce Lee and his philosophy remain an iconic influence in movies, martial arts, MMA, and his own style fighting style, Jeet Kune Do.

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